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A Shamanic View

Rites of Passage and Social Acknowledgment

Our family stays up to keep an all-night vigil for the longest night of the year at the Winter Solstice. We drum in the sunrise and then have a breakfast feast. Our children tried their best to stay up all night with us. Inevitably they crashed, one on the floor and one voluntarily taking to bed. But they were both too tired to get up and join us at sunrise. Next year we’ll have to remind them that they’ll have to go to sleep sooner if they want to participate in the morning.

But I think what it came down to it they were wanting to do what the adults were doing. I certainly can’t fault them for that.

In a recent conversation, a friend pointed out that other than alcohol, there’s only so much that really marks a social acknowledgement of adulthood. There are fewer and fewer things that create clear social distinctions of adults from children. At eighteen we can vote. But not everyone does, and generally that only matters once a year at most. At sixteen or so we start driving, but we’re still in high school and people don’t treat us differently just because we can drive (except maybe some younger siblings…). But, “when you’re an adult you can drink.” It strikes me as both odd and disappointing that that seems about all most youth have to look forward to as distinguishing events.

There are some cultures that still have important rites of passage into adulthood. Bar and Bat Mitzvahs are the examples that come to my mind, at least. These are really cool events, attended and acknowledged by friends and family. These are ceremonies that, from my outsider view, seem to be taken pretty seriously.

So how do we, as Pagans, mark when adulthood begins? Do we? Do we treat our adults differently because they are adults? Personally, I tend to think we should. I believe that children need more nurturing than adults do. Note I say more. I certainly don’t mean to imply that once adulthood starts the nurturing switch gets turned off!

But I know my expectations of adults are different. The responsibilities, in my view at least, are different or should be. My children are ten and seven, so I do have some time to figure it out for me and my family. But Winter is a time for introspection, for figuring out what to do differently in the coming year, and therefore in the future. So now seems like a pretty apt time to be discussing it.

If you’re a Pagan parent, maybe you have a path with some built-in rituals for coming of age. Maybe there are some you’ll choose to borrow from another path. Maybe you’ll invent something.

But even if you aren’t a parent, there’s the question of do we treat adults differently? How do we recognize or identify that difference? Maybe we need to start by recognizing it for ourselves, and holding ourselves to a standard of adulthood. I’m sure it’ll be different for every one of us. But if we haven’t taken the time to think about it, I think we all should. What you decide is for you, obviously.